What success really means for our young people – and us

Although term ended over a week ago, and it was a week before that that we celebrated our great Founders’ Day at school, I find myself still reflecting deeply on the day. Partly this is because it was my tenth and last at St Mary’s Calne, and so was very special indeed, but more importantly, it was a real opportunity to recognise true success, and we had an amazing, fabulous day. Days like this remain imprinted on our minds, and it is right that we should keep them alive in our minds.

Success is, of course, on all our minds this year in particular. 2012 has marked the Diamond Jubilee of our great Queen Elizabeth II, and we await in eager anticipation the London Olympics in the summer. It was fitting, therefore, that we chose as our focal image this year for our Founders’ Day the depiction of the Greek Goddess Nike, the personification of victory, who will grace each of the Olympic medals awarded in London in August.

In this image, variations of which have appeared on the Olympic medals since the Amsterdam games of 1928, Nike is usually shown carrying a palm and a wreath, symbols of victory. It is a strong female image; she is striding out, moving forward, propelled by an inner and spiritual force which encapsulates the power and symbolism of the Olympic Games. The arena of these Games, where the best athletes in the whole world meet and compete, is a place where we see and know that talent and interest are not enough to succeed. A great athlete is one who is highly motivated, who is inspired to work hard – so hard – in preparation and training, and who is utterly dedicated to the ultimate goal of success.

Great athletes, great human beings, are like gladiators, who get up again and again, whatever the setbacks they encounter, for it is in how they deal with adversity, as well as success, that defines their characters. To be equally gracious, equally magnanimous, equally focused on the next goal, in victory and in defeat, is what marks out great human beings, and it is this greatness in the arena of life that I firmly believe is sparked at school.

Greatness is more than an individual, however. The Olympic Games draw peoples of the world together in an arena where they may be competing as individuals but they are ultimately, collectively, representative not only of their nations, but of the human race. They are indeed striving to be the best for themselves, to push themselves to the limit, but they are also doing this for, and are inspired and given impetus and energy by, the millions of others who are supporting them and willing them to succeed.

When we see, before us, extraordinary feats of human endurance, then even national loyalties fade into insignificance compared to the shared sense of wonder and pride in what human beings can achieve. We are all in this together – in this world, in this time, at this point in history, and the Olympic Games remind us of this. We are many peoples with many viewpoints, but we are also one world. We have many varied and different perspectives on life, but we are one human race. We share in our destiny.

My travels abroad over the past couple of years, connecting the school internationally, have really brought this home to me. And I know that we have real work to do to help make the world a better, more unified, more harmonious, more understanding and understood place. Yet this is within our grasp if we are motivated, resilient, ambitious for others and prepared to think creatively and audaciously.

This is what we are really preparing our young people for: to lead good lives – great lives – in which they will make the most of themselves and will contribute – genuinely contribute – to improving the world in which we, and they, and the generations who will come after them, live. As I say often to the girls at school, it is their substance and their character that will ensure that they make a difference in this world. Cast superficiality aside, and move forward with the real business of living.

When they achieve this, with the help of all of us, this is what success will really mean. And the world will benefit.


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